Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Tyler Ennis leads a group of smaller players looking to stick with Buffalo

Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com

At 5'9", 170 lbs. Buffalo Sabres forward Tyler Ennis was the smallest player in the organization before Cory Conacher was claimed off of waivers. Conacher is listed at 5'8" 180 lbs.

Yet despite a GM who has been throwing around the word "heavy" ever since the trade deadline, the diminutive Ennis looks to be a part of the organization moving forward.

At Thursday's press conference Sabres GM Tim Murray was asked about the status of Ennis, a restricted free agent. Would the Sabres re-sign him, in part, to help the team get to the cap floor?

"It's not the floor issue at all," said Murray. "I like the player."

After dismissing the cap-floor as inconsequential, Murray continued talking about the player. "I like his approach to the game. I like his compete-level. I like his speed. There's a lot of things I like about him."

Picked, 26th overall in the 2008 entry draft Ennis has been plying his trade at the pro level since the 2009-10 season.

In 267 NHL games he has 69 goals and 97assists. Last year's 21 goals were a career high and the second time that he's had a 20-goal season.

After a little position shuffling, Ennis seems to be looked upon as a center. Both former head coach Lindy Ruff and present coach Ted Nolan would rather have Ennis use the whole ice to fully utilize his speed, hockey smarts and "greaziness."

And it's worked.

When Nolan came on board last November he took off the chains, Ennis responded. The coach Nolan replaced, Ron Rolston, was fixated upon X's and O's to the point where the players were so busy worrying about where to be on the ice that they forgot how to play the game of hockey.

“That’s the biggest thing. I don’t have to think,” said Ennis last year. “I’m a little more instinctive" which plays to his strengths.

Said Nolan at the time concerning Ennis, "To … say, ‘You have to be at this place’ is limiting his ability,” he said. “We kind of took the reins off and said, ‘You just have to make sure you’re aware defensively.’”

The defensive part of the equation could use a little work as evidenced by Ennis' minus-25 plus/minus rating which was the worst on the team.

But for a rebuilding franchise in desperate need of scoring moving forward, that's a stat that might be dismissed. At least temporarily. Next year promises to be more of a struggle for the team and there are plenty of bottom-sixers who can look to make their mark playing a defensive game.

The team needs scoring and everybody knows it. Ennis' ability to find the openings on the ice and his ability to finish is what Murray and Co. are looking forward to.

With Murray throwing around the word, "heavy" and backing it up by trading for heavyweights like Nic Deslauriers (6'1" 209,) Hudson Fasching (6'2" 213,) and Chris Stewart (6'2" 231) one might be inclined to think that he intends to build a team full of linebackers.

There's always room for a player who can contribute at the NHL level, but probably not much for the under 6'0"-brigade unless they have a specific skill or trait that forces Murray's hand.

Ennis has speed and finish while Johan Larsson at 5'11" 206 lbs is a defensively sound, tree stump of a man who gets under the skin of the opposition. They're at "the head of the class" right now.

Long-term prospects like Eric Locke (5'9", 189 lbs) and Sean Malone (5'11, 183) are two 2013 draft picks with plenty of time to develop while Dan Catenacci (5'10", 180) and Phil Varone (5'10", 190) are in Rochester trying to work their way up.

Catenacci and Varone play key roles for the Amerks, yet may end up being classic NHL/AHL tweeners mainly because of their size.

Getting lost amongst the trees at the NHL-level are unrestricted free agents Conacher and Torrey Mitchell.

After a strong NHL debut amongst immense talent in Tampa Bay, Conacher may have seen his last game in Buffalo. As a waiver-wire pickup (OTT) his three goals and three assists in 19 games for the Sabres might not be enough.

The 29 yr. old Mitchell was part of the Matt Moulson trade with Minnesota. He had one goal in nine games for Buffalo in a checking role. The Sabres have a bunch of youngins who they will need to take a look at, probably at the expense of 5'11" 190 lb. Mitchell.

Size is of great importance to Murray and the Sabres moving forward. The teams out west like the Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings and contenders like Anaheim and San Jose' all have size to go along with their skill.

Although there is room for smaller players on the Sabres moving forward, they're not going to rebuild the team with an inordinate amount of them.

Ennis seems to have one spot locked up moving forward and for the next year or two every player in the organization will have the opportunity to so the same.

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